Working on the Farm
by Bronwynn Kelly, DeLano Farms Assistant Manager
DeLano Farms is lucky enough to own an old Allis-Chalmers Model ‘G’ implement carrier to help with some mechanical cultivation, and I’ve been lucky enough to learn how to drive this little tractor. The Model ‘G’ was designed for small farms and vegetable gardeners, and had its own line of implements specifically designed for it, including ploughs, planters, and cultivators. The design of the tractor allows for the driver to have a great view of the belly-mounted implements and guide them around the vegetable plants, weeding everything else. For mechanical cultivation, DeLano Farms has a sweeps that can be mounted on the ‘G’ and they run down in between the rows of vegetables, turning over the soil and uprooting/burying weeds. I did run this through the peppers, eggplant, watermelons, cucumbers, and squash a couple weeks ago and knocked back the competition a bit.
This week I have been testing the belly-mounted discs to help in hilling our potatoes. Potato tubers develop near the surface of the soil so, if throughout the season you bury the potato plant deeper it will continue to develop more potatoes. I’ve made one pass through the field and might attempt to make a few more as to increase the depth of the hilling.
This week on the farm the crew was again busy weeding, this time in the Solanaceae fields. The peppers and eggplant have a hard time competing against the more robust ragweed and aggressive grasses. With the rain last week, we missed our opportunity to quickly hoe the weeds and have been hand pulling the largest competition from around the pepper and eggplant plants. The farm crew has also trellised tomatoes and will be spraying them with a mixture to prevent disease, wheel-hoed turnips, radishes, beets, brussels sprouts, and calaloo. And we’re working even harder in hopes of getting some of the work that’s been building up done before the fourth. Happy July 4th!!
What does a farmer think about while they weed?
by Lucy Reese, DeLano Farms Manager
Next time you're dipping potatoes in ketchup and believing yourself to be doing something completely ordinary, know that your food may have a stronger personality than you previously thought. Not only does the potato have powerful cousins, but if it were 500 years ago, this all-American dish may have gotten you accused of witchcraft.
Potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, and even tobacco are Nightshades, and are closely-related to the infamous Belladonna, Mandrake and Deadly Nightshade plants. How strange then that Nightshades are an intimate part of everyday American life. Going by the cleaner-sounding Latin family name Solanaceae, you will find that some of your best plant friends are Nightshades.
When seeds of the tomato plant were brought back from the Americas, Europeans quickly associated tomatoes with their less-savory cousins. For years, it was strictly an ornamental, as many feared the consequences of consuming it. Lycopersicum, Tomato's scientific name, comes from old German werewolf stories. Meaning “wolf-peach,” it was believed to help witches transform into wolves or other animals. Despite its famous use in pasta and pizza, the tomato was not even widely consumed in Italy until the 17th or 18th century! Nightshades have played a significant role in many cultures since recorded history, and are mentioned in many ancient religious and historical texts (including the Bible). Their images have even been found on cave walls.
Perhaps it is their strange juxtaposing ability to be both ordinary otherworldly that makes them so enticing, or perhaps it’s that they are so high in nutrients and taste so great!
by Lucy Reese, DeLano Farms Manager
As some of you may know, we faced a saddening late blight infection in our fields during the 2013 season. Late blight is a serious disease of tomatoes and potatoes that can wipe out a crop in days. We did everything we could have done to eradicate the infection, and stop the spread of late blight through our fields. Still, as we all know, micro organisms can be pesky and crafty, and we cannot rule out the possibility that there are some surviving late blight pathogens, EEK! We are taking every precaution to protect our crops from an outbreak. The first step is choosing blight resistant varieties of potatoes and tomatoes. Blight is an issue on many farms, not just DeLano. For this reason, researchers have spent years identifying and breading blight resistant strains. These are what will be growing in DeLano fields this year. So if you notice that your potato is blue, or that your tomato is stripey, know that we are not just doing this for novelty sake. These unique varieties of plants are especially suited for DeLano's 2014 needs.
The second angle of attack is proper crop rotation. We are keeping this year's tomatoes and potatoes far, far away from last year's. This way, if one infected straggler remains, it will have a more difficult time passing on his disease, because all potential hosts will be across the farm. Because the disease is most likely to persist on potato tubers, we will be keeping the potato field cover cropped and routinely mowed, so as to kill any surviving potatoes.
As part of this measure, we will not have cherry tomatoes in the u-pick section. Instead, they will be grown in our hoop house and with the other tomatoes and kept in the field with the other tomatoes. You will still have a chance to u-pick from the hoop house but, we would like to keep traffic and disease flow to a minimum out in the field. We know this is inconvenient, but we see it as an important disease management decision.
Yet a third strategy is bio control methods. We will be spraying the potatoes and tomatoes with a preventative biofungicide called Serenade. Approved for use in organic production, it is composed of beneficial microbes. The hope is that these little bacteria’s will make a happy home and procreate on the leaves of our valuable Nightshades, thus making it more difficult for other less desirable microbes, such as late blight, to set up colonies.The last angle of approach is doing everything we can to ensure the general health and wellness of our crops. As much as we dislike late blight, the Nightshades like it even less. They are our allies in fighting this pathogen, and every resource we can provide them for battle will ultimately help us. Thus, we will nurture them well from a young age, set out healthy transplants with adequate water, sun and nutrients. We will trellis them in a timely fashion, and do everything we can not to transport diseases to them from our clothes, tools or tractors. With care, luck, and some warm, dry weather, DeLano should avoid a 2014 blight infection.